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The pugnacious candidate for the conservative National Action Party (PAN) vaulted into the race in May when the first-ever presidential debate was broadcast live across the country.

Considered the best orator of the candidates (a skill honed as a criminal lawyer and deputy in Congress), ``The Chief'' has not been given another chance to show up his opponents in a second debate. Polls now place Diego Fernandez de Cevallos in second place, behind PRI candidate Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon.

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The PAN already holds 89 of the 500 seats in the lower house of Congress, making it the No. 2 political force. It is also the only opposition party that the PRI has recognized as winning gubernatorial races (two by ballot, one by presidential decree).

Recognizing the threat, the PRI is doing what it has done for decades: adapt its policies to absorb the opposition. PAN policies to privatize, open the economy, legalize church-state relations, and pass electoral reforms have been implemented by the PRI. Differences between PAN and PRI economic programs are minimal. Though less specific on the economy, Mr. Fernandez is pro-NAFTA and favors reforming laws to encourage foreign investment. He also says he will push privatization of strategic sectors traditionally considered off-limits to investors.

Staunchly pro-Catholic, Fernandez has tried to position himself as the moral choice. He is anti-abortion, anti-corruption, and pro-judicial reform. But his conservative attitude toward women has hurt him with the female electorate. His two most prominent campaign slogans are: ``A Mexico without lies'' and ``Diego - a safe change.''

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